Ateneo reclaims lost glory, holds off UP to regain UAAP title
After a one-season absence from the top of the UAAP men’s basketball, the Ateneo Blue Eagles are back as the undisputed alpha dogs after toppling the UP Fighting Maroons in a Game 3 thriller, 75-68, at the sold-out Araneta Coliseum on Monday, December 19.
The Blue Eagles survived the Maroons’ huge second-half fightback with Ange Kouame making sure to restore order with clutch plays on both ends even as the last season’s champions, behind Harold Alarcon, challenged them with big buckets until the dying seconds.
Two clutch free throws by BJ Andrade sealed it for the Blue Eagles – who led by as many as 20 points, 52-32, in the second half – after a huge Alarcon triple trimmed the gap to just three, 70-67, with 12.3 seconds left.
Kouame, who led the Blue Eagles in Game 3 with 19 points, 12 rebounds, and 4 blocks, bagged the Finals MVP after averaging 17.7 points and 11 boards in the best-of-three series.
Forthsky Padrigao and Gab Gomez also chipped in 12 points each for Ateneo in the decider.
James Spencer paced UP with 14 points, while Alarcon and Henry Galinato added 12 points each.
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For the second straight season in the same year, the UP Fighting Maroons and Ateneo Blue Eagles gear up for a do-or-die Game 3 in the finals to cap off a thrilling UAAP Season 85 run at 6 pm on Monday, December 19, at the Araneta Coliseum.
Now missing star forward Zavier Lucero due to an untimely left ACL injury, the defending champions suddenly face an uphill climb to defend their historic title with a thinned-out, but still talented frontcourt of MVP Malick Diouf, two-time Mythical Five member Carl Tamayo, and bruiser Henry Galinato.
The Maroons, however, are still not short on perimeter threats as the likes of James Spencer, Terrence Fortea, Harold Alarcon, Gerry Abadiano, and Finals MVP candidate JD Cagulangan are fully healthy and ready to come out guns blazing like always.
Meanwhile, the redemption-seeking Blue Eagles remain loaded from top to bottom with a veteran core of former MVP Ange Kouame, gunner BJ Andrade, and Season 85 Mythical Five member Dave Ildefonso.
Inspired by a timely visit from former Ateneo standouts like Gian Mamuyac and the Nieto twins Matt and Mike, this year’s batch of up-and-comers like Kai Ballungay, Chris Koon, Joshua Lazaro, and Gab Gomez are likewise fired up for one last stand in the hopes of regaining lost glory for the blue and white.
Will UP buck its untimely injury woes to still complete its unique back-to-back title bid, or will Ateneo take advantage of a weakened foe – as it should – and complete its comeback campaign to the top?